Creating a business case for ECM puts priority on organizational needs

Before evaluating enterprise content management software, be sure to assess business requirements and build them into your business case, users and analysts say.

Planning an enterprise content management (ECM) system based on an organization’s needs is generally the best approach to building a business case for the project and ultimately achieving a successful deployment. But doing so takes a thorough analysis of existing workflows and future business requirements before any technology evaluations begin, according to experienced ECM users and industry analysts.

“We brought in people from departments throughout the organization to get their opinions and understand their requirements to get buy-in about the new system,” said an IT manager at a state government organization in New York. In addition to helping create a business case for ECM, the discussions shaped the request for proposals that the organization has now issued to ECM software vendors, added the IT manager, who asked not to be identified.

Assessing organizational needs should be one of the first steps in the development of an ECM business case, recommended Alan Weintraub, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “You want to discuss the objectives of the project and the critical success factors,” he said. “Then, after you’ve defined both of those pieces, you’ve got an outline of what you want to accomplish and something that’s measurable so you’ll be able to know that you’ve succeeded.”

Weintraub added that once a business determination is made to proceed, laying out a detailed roadmap for the ECM project and then associating specific requirements with ECM software features during the product evaluation process can also help organizations reach the goal of full end-user adoption.

Business case for ECM includes improved records management
Cathy Sparks, district clerk at the Vallejo Sanitation and Flood Control District in Vallejo, Calif., said the ability to revise the agency’s records retention policy and schedule to include electronic content and emails was a key driver for the development of an ECM system that’s now being deployed. Previously, there was no reliable way to make sure that documents stored on network drives were being deleted according to the retention schedule, Sparks said.

“With the ECM system, our policy will be applied, and there will be a workflow that will flag the documents so that when it reaches the time when they’re supposed to be disposed of, each respective manager will be notified for their approval,” she said. “And then it will come to me as the records manager to do the final disposal.”

The new system will also allow Sparks to put a hold on records to prevent them from being deleted if they’re needed for legal purposes. She said that feature was particularly important to the wastewater treatment and flood control agency because of the document management lessons it learned after an environmental watchdog group filed a lawsuit in 1996 over sewage discharges into San Francisco Bay during rainy weather.

Sparks, who joined the district in 2004, said it wasn’t difficult to demonstrate the ECM system’s potential business value and return on investment (ROI). But to help make the business case for ECM, the organization had to wait “to find something in our budget that would meet our needs,” she added. That included support for both records management and document workflow within the system, so that employees could use it to collaborate with one another.

The deployment of the ECM system is currently about 40% complete, according to Sparks. The agency finally made its technology choice in early 2010 and installed the ECM software last July, followed by user training in September and October. However, Sparks and other officials then decided to seek outside consulting help to build an ECM taxonomy and implement the system to meet the district’s records management standards.

“That way, there’s little question for employees on how things should be filed,” she said. “It will also apply the records schedule so employees don’t have to worry about it.”

Document-heavy apps provide entry into business case for ECM
Chris Riley, senior ECM and document capture architect at Pasadena, Calif.-based consulting firm ShareSquared Inc., said that document-driven applications such as systems for filing quarterly reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission “tend to be an on-ramp into ECM” for companies looking to streamline workflow processes and make them more effective.

In creating a business case, he added, an organization might specify a need for an ECM system that could provide document collaboration capabilities as well as check-in and check-out controls to ensure, for example, that users are working on the correct version of a document.

Organizations developing plans for ECM systems and doing potential ECM ROI calculations also need to take into account the many different types of ECM technologies that are available, many designed with a specific vertical market or usage scenario in mind, said Alan Pelz-Sharpe, a principal analyst at Real Story Group in Olney, Md.

“Understand your specific ECM needs and try to match that with the products available out there,” Pelz-Sharpe advised. “Make sure that your shortlist actually meets your needs rather than some preconceived idea about market leaders.”

Catherine LaCroix is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She covers technology used in business, education and health care.

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